Beacon of moral values and having a secret affair? Anti poverty leader, managing a healthy Swiss bank account? Gender equality defender having, in reality, little respect for women? Maker of a ‘great country again’, insulting its citizens? Is the true human condition something close to acceptable schizophrenia?
Absolute, black and white, bipolar, yes/no thinking is dreadful. But wild relativism is not a better alternative. Relativism says to us that ‘it all depends’. But if your thinking starts this way, you are in troubled waters. Surely there are things that don’t work on ‘it depends’ mode. But try to position yourself in this way and you will be addressed as rigid in the best case, and dinosaur of some sort, most likely.
We have often come to accept that things like morality, truth or values are no more than a pick and mix affair from a societal supermarket that offers us, not just immense but unlimited possibilities. Because it all depends on what you are talking about, it depends on the what and the why and the when. So life will accommodate to you, don’t you worry.
My ramblings above have been sparked by a statistic from the superb New York Times columnist David Brooks. Talking about conservatism in the US, Brooks himself a conservative, says: ‘Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 72 percent of white evangelicals believe that a person who is immoral in private life can be an effective national leader, a belief that is more Machiavelli than Matthew’.
72 percent of those with universal moral-based thinking, have no problem in the unbundling of the same morals, that they present as unbundable to the rest of us. It depends, you see?
In our organizational life, we have our fair share of ‘it depends’. Indeed, a particular school of leadership thinking, ‘contingency leadership’, practices the ‘it depends’ very comfortably. After all, who could be against adapting oneself to the circumstances? The master of contingency leadership was Jack Welch when at the helm of GE. And he was praised as a mighty leader by many, for many years. Moons ago, Welch was a required quote on leadership in any discourse, in any business school slide deck, in any Tom Peters three thousand slide presentation. In leadership terms, what did we learn from that? Not much, other than you could be ruthless and nice ‘depending’ on what was needed.
Can we unbundle leadership in a pret-a-porter manner? Can we accept split personalities as the norm for people in a position of leadership?
Will you let a notorious drinker drive your kids to school because at that time he was sober?
Part of me says I am making a meal of this. But I don’t buy the unbundling of leadership into ‘it depends’ bits.
In my past professional life as a clinical psychiatrist, split personality counted as a disorder. I guess I am stuck with that and have little time for the ‘it depends’ leaders of this world.
I don’t want my kids in the hands of a heavy drink driver even if he is sober when I see him. How inflexible of me, I suppose.